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In May 1941, after the loss of the German battleship Bismarck, Adolf Hitler had forbidden any German capital ship from venturing into contested seas. By December 1943 the tide had turned against Germany. The Battle of the Atlantic had been lost, and supplies poured into the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. In September 1943 the German battleship Tirpitz was disabled during the British Operation Source, leaving Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen as the only operational heavy ships in the Kriegsmarine.
In November 1943 the Arctic Convoys restarted. On 19 December 1943 Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz submitted a request to Hitler to allow Scharnhorst to attack the next convoy sailing through the Barents Sea. On 25 December 1943 Dönitz ordered Ostfront to commence. Admiral Fraser (C-in-C of the Home Fleet), alerted by Norwegian resistance information to the possibility of an interception by Scharnhorst, prepared a trap for the German warship. On 25 December Scharnhorst sailed to intercept the British convoy, JW 55B, believing it to be sparsely protected. In the ensuing Battle of the North Cape Scharnhorst was separated from her escorting destroyers and was sunk.